With 100 million foreigners expected to learn Chinese by 2010, local scientists on Wednesday claimed success in developing a computer programme to test how well people speak Mandarin Chinese.
The technology will help improve oral testing of Chinese and promote Mandarin Chinese both at home and abroad, former deputy director of the State Language Work Committee, Fu Yong said.
The technology was jointly developed by the Acoustics Institute and the Software Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Lab experiments show that more than 98 per cent of the results given by the computer evaluation system were as same as the results given by linguists, deputy director of the Acoustics Institute, Ju Qi said.
The system will be introduced to Mandarin Chinese examinations in Hong Kong's middle schools and universities, Xinhua news agency reported. Although Chinese share a similar written language -- Chinese ideograms or characters, which have been in use for three thousand years -- the pronunciation of identical characters differs widely from region to region.
This means people who can't communicate verbally can often communicate by writing Chinese characters that are pronounced differently but have the same meaning. Mandarin, which in Chinese is called Putonghua and literally means 'common talk', is taught in every school in the country and is China's standard lingua franca.
Most Chinese are verbally bilingual, speaking not only Mandarin, which has many regional accents, but a completely different sounding dialect of Chinese.